You are a government agent who has discovered a plot to set off a nuclear weapon in the US. You have captured one of the terrorists involved in the plot, and you are convinced that your captive knows where to find the bomb. You are also convinced that the bomb will go off in just a few hours, so time is of the essence. Would you torture the captive to make him tell you the location of the bomb?This argument is designed to get you to admit that the federal government should not publicly outlaw “aggressive interrogation” techniques like waterboarding. If you say “yes”, you agree that such techniques should not be forbidden; if you say “no”, you put the well-being of one terrorist ahead of the lives of thousands of American citizens.
Let me go on record as saying that the government should unequivocally outlaw torture. Not only is it unethical, it’s an unreliable means of getting information. Victims of torture do not necessarily tell the truth. Generally speaking, they tell the torturer whatever they think will make the torture stop, whether it’s true or not. In the hypothetical situation, the interrogator really doesn’t have a way to tell if the captive is lying; anything the captive says could lead agents on a wild goose chase, making it even less likely that they’ll succeed in stopping the bomb.
But let’s say that I really am convinced that my captive has the information needed to save thousands of American lives and that I’m convinced I can get that information from him in time to do something about it. In that case, yes, I will use “aggressive techniques” to extract the information. I will not, however, complain when I’m sent to prison for torturing the guy. If the information was worth his pain and suffering, then it’s also worth my personal freedom.
Can we give this argument a rest, now?